Day 12 - Dhaulagiri Circuit - Hidden Valley

Two massive days at the end of this trek - French Col and Dhamphus Peak. We all got over the Col today but I'm totally knackered.  To be honest I'm not sure if I have anything left for what is a bigger climb tomorrow.

It was a very cold night last, Chris registered -7C inside his tent - but I did get a good night's sleep.  The only disturbances were rumbles from avalanches and rock falls and the occasional loud cracks as the glacier moved beneath the tent.

Cold nights seem to herald sunny days and that's exactly what we got.  Tenzing has crossed the French Col 5 times and this is the first time he has done it in the sun.

Brad and Deborah climbing towards the moraine
I ended up wearing the huge chunky plastic two layer climbing boots and given the cold and the amount of snow I'm glad I did.  I hired them from Jagged Globe without trying them on and they are a bit too tight.  With hindsight I would have been better getting them in Kathmandu at Shonas, which is what I did on the Mera Peak trip last year.  They were old, battered and bright yellow but at least they were the right size.

Starting on the moraine
The weather was absolutely perfect. We got off to a flying start and the conditions were so good that Pem and Chris were happy for everyone to walk at their own pace and we were soon spread across the mountain.  I followed Andy who cracked along and at that stage I felt great.
On top of the moraine wearing a tea cosy 
All the way up the valley we were treated to stunning views of Dhaulagiri.  Brilliant white, illuminated by bright sunshine and set off by a deep blue sky. Despite walking away from it all day it's huge size never seemed to diminish.
On the snow field beyond the moraine

At the end of the valley, before the French Col,  is the first significant obstacle - a long and very beautiful lateral moraine.  The sun had now reached our side of the valley, the temperature had shot up and down jackets had been stuffed into bags before the ascent was attempted. The route climbed the scree first one way and then the other and there were frequent shouts of "below" as rocks dislodged by walkers on the upper traverse crashed down towards the walkers on the lower one.  The upper traverse was very narrow, had been in the sun longer, and was unstable.

After help from the Sherpas on the really tricky bits everyone was on top of the moraine.  I had dropped a lens cover which bounced down the mountain.  Before I could say "don't bother" Pesang had run down, picked it and returned.  Seeing him run down the loose muddy scree at 5,000 metres, I was not sure what I felt - grateful or deeply envious.
Nick looking back to Dhaulagiri
At the top of the moraine the French Col was clearly visible - a nice easy walk across a snow field - how wrong could you be.

Everyone seemed to underestimate how hard the next stage of the walk was: it looked so close.  In reality it was still two miles away and we had another 400 metres to climb.  Getting to the Col seemed to take forever.  It was now very hot, my feet seemed to have swelled in the boots and became increasingly painful.

On the French Col
For me the feeling was more one of relief rather than achievement on reaching the Col.  The views were great but the way I was feeling was a knock to my confidence.  I was blaming my boots, anything, but the truth was I had found the climb very hard.  Someone pointed out Dhampus Peak and rather than a gentle hill I was looking at a real mountain with a sharp peak and ominously covered in snow.  I was already worrying about the next stage.
On the French Col

Interestingly Chris was on an emotional high.  He had been running around like a Welsh Collie all day- on one side of the group then the other - and clearly had energy to burn.  He said that this has been his best day ever in the mountains and for someone who had climbed Cho Oyo that's quite a statement.  He was feeling good but I felt knackered, was already thinking about Damphus, and not really in a state to appreciate just where I was.

Must admit I quite like piling downhill through snow and the descent into Hidden Valley provided the perfect opportunity.  It wasn't however the snow filled valley I had expected but wide and flat bottomed, snowy on one side and dry and arid on the other.  It was as if the boundary between the desert like Tibetan Plateau landscape and the wetter alpine mountains of the high Himalaya ran right through the valley.
Wind swept Hidden Valley
The campsite, which was located at the bottom of valley was in an open and exposed spot and was still being assembled when we arrived. To escape the wind Steve, Alexis and I sheltered on the floor of the mess tent.  We were all knackered but Alexis in particular was in a bad way.  I had followed him up to the Col he had been really strong but was now suffering from chronic exhaustion.

At dinner the casualty list was confirmed.  Charles had made the Col within 20 minutes of the first arrival but said he couldn't do Dhampus, Alexis and Mandy said they were too tired and Andy was a no show for dinner.

Although I was knackered my real problem was my boots but apart from moan about them there was nothing I could do.  Kevin, who has supplies of everything, kindly gave me some Compeed for my first blister in years and I was in my sleeping bag by 6.30pm trying to get some rest before Dhamphus.


  1. Hey John, another excellent post with beautiful photos. Quick question (and sorry if I missed this elsewhere) what bag did you use and what temp is it rated at? We're thinking we'll need a -20 bag for this trek. Would you agree?


    1. Hi Susan - thanks for the comment, definitely, really good sleeping bag essential. I had a Rab Ascent 900, some people had the Expedition range. Keep warm!